Ransomware attack drives city to seek greater network visibility

Local governments have been under siege from ransomware attacks in recent years. Colorado announced a state of emergency and called in the National Guard’s cyber team to help after its Department of Transportation was hit with SamSam ransomware in February 2018. March 2018 saw the City of Atlanta crippled by SamSam in an attack that cost an estimated $2.6 million to fix (against an original ransom of $52,000). In January 2019, the website for Dublin’s Luas tram system also fell victim to an extortion attack.

“Just like everybody else in the world, local government is attacked very, very heavily,” says Craig Brown, chief innovation officer for City of Westland, Michigan. “Right now, it seems like there’s a trend that hackers consider local governments to be low-hanging fruit because of the lack of budgets you find in a lot of technology departments, and it’s unfortunate.”

In February 2018, Westland suffered a ransomware attack that, despite not causing as much damage as it might have, made the city realize it needed to change how it thought about security.

Small but savvy IT team

Located 16 miles west of Detroit, Westland is home to over 84,000 residents. Brown was appointed chief innovation officer in October of 2018, having previously worked various IT roles at the city for the last five years, and in the technology department of the University of Michigan Hospital before that.

“I embody the traditional role of a chief information officer with the added twist that we’re responsible for providing innovation through technology to all departments of the city,” Brown says. “We manage work processes, trying to help develop them to be better, smarter, faster, more cost effective. If it touches electricity we manage and develop it.”

Brown and his team of five are responsible for enabling, provisioning and securing citizen data and ensuring the reliability of the city’s operations. The team’s remit includes the city’s information websites and social media, network infrastructure, databases, servers and various city services including water, sewers, trash, help to senior citizens, the building department, public access TV station and even the HVAC systems on the government buildings.

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